Read and then Scream: Rotten STEM

Last night, our friend and colleague David Treeby sent us an article. By a guy named Jared Woodard, the article is called Rotten STEM: How Technology Corrupts Education. It is great. Read it. Then scream.

8 Replies to “Read and then Scream: Rotten STEM”

  1. Fantastic Article. Lends a lot of insight to technology in education. As an educator, and working in a school which is affected by technological inundation, I can attest to the effects (even though I have only observed them on a short-term basis) that were described in the article.

  2. My goodness YES. I work at a university which has gone techno-mad, and the evidence of the usefulness of all of it is sketchy and superficial in the extreme. I was recently involved in redrafting a third year maths unit (in numerical analysis), and the learning designers seemed to want me to clothe it in all sorts of useless technology. I resisted as much as I could. So much of this technology seems to somehow infantilize the students, as though they aren’t able to learn the material on its own, but must be tricked into it somehow. You might disguise the taste of medicine for a three-year old child, but I think that 20 year old students are quite capable of learning mathematics taught purely as mathematics.

    Finally, here’s another excellent bit of writing, although a blog post instead of a published essay: “Forget 21st Century skills – revive 18th Century skills” at

    1. Thanks, amca01. No question, students are being trained to live down to teachers’/lecturers’ expectations. I’m less convinced by the Donald Clark piece, and am not sure I understood it. No question that teaching “21st century skills” and all those idiotic Cs is a waste of everybody’s time. But Clark seems a lot more comfortable with the modern technoworld and much less respectful of traditional teaching than I am.

      1. I read the Donald Clark article as him saying that teaching 21st century skills is stupid: that students live in that world and are generally more comfortable in it than their teachers, so that teaching should concentrate on things like critical thinking and analysis. And I certainly agree with that!

        1. I definitely agree that students are more comfortable in that world, and it’s hilarious for older klutzes to try to teach kids about any of it. But I love lectures and hate, for example, Twitter. That’s where I seem to disagree with Clark.

          1. You wouldn’t last a minute with my employer, for which the mantras include “Lectures Bad, Collaborative Learning Good”, and “Exams Bad, Some Other Form Of Assessment Good”. Whenever I try to point out some possible disadvantages of this approach, I’m branded as an Enemy of the State, and as Not Being With The Program. I have become extraordinarily good at doublethink and equivocation.

  3. You could see the silliness of the IT in schools push as far back as the 80s. Like do the kids really need to learn how to push buttons? The one place I’ve seen non-cntrversial movement of technology is scientific calculators (not CAS) in chemistry and physics high school classes. And essentially they are just more convenient slide rules. The fundamental problem solving (like two simultaneous equations in chemical analysis) is the same. And a significant effort is needed to model the problem and manipulate it and convert units and the like. With the calculator just doing the final number crunching at the end.

    Note that NTCM was pushing for calculators in calculus and they actually tried it in 1983. (The problems don’t need them, unlike chemistry the numbers are pretty simple.) They found that the students who used a calculator (it was optional but pointless) actually did worse than the students who did not.

    The silly math ed association types retreated and licked their wounds and eventually pushed graphing calculators into the 1997ish AP calc exams. But US colleges still don’t use them. And this is a case of “advanced placement” trying to drive the bus rather than doing what was intended (presenting a typical college class, which gave their program a source of external validity).

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